Japan reports first domestic case of Wuhan virus infection: A bus driver who ferried Chinese tourists

A quarantine notice about the outbreak of the new coronavirus at Haneda airport in Tokyo.
A quarantine notice about the outbreak of the new coronavirus at Haneda airport in Tokyo.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO – A Japanese man was yesterday confirmed to have caught the Wuhan coronavirus, in the first domestic case that is not related to any recent travel to China.

His was among three new cases that were confirmed by the Health Ministry Tuesday night (Jan 28). The other two are visiting Wuhan tourists in their 40s, with a man isolated in Aichi prefecture and a woman quarantined in Hokkaido.
Japan’s total infected tally stands at seven.

The Japanese victim is in his 60s and lives in Nara prefecture, which borders Kyoto and Osaka. He is in stable condition, the Health Ministry said.

The man is a bus driver who had driven two groups of tourists from Wuhan this month.

A Health Ministry official said his illness is probably the first known human-to-human transmission in Japan of the virus, known as the 2019-nCOV.

The man did not wear a mask when he drove the first busload of 31 tourists from Osaka to Tokyo between Jan 8 and 11, but he did on a subsequent trip from Tokyo to Osaka from Jan 12 to 16, with 29 tourists.

The two groups of tourists have returned to China. None had any visible symptoms of pneumonia when they were in Japan.

He first developed symptoms of the common cold on Jan 14. A visit to a doctor three days later found no abnormalities and he was sent home with medicine for his cold.

Between Jan 18 and 22, he drove a third group of Chinese tourists, from Dalian city. He felt his condition worsen on Jan 22. He was hospitalised on Jan 25, and the infection was confirmed yesterday.

Beijing has banned group tours overseas starting Monday to control the spread of the virus, which originated in Wuhan, a city of 11 million. More than 4,500 people have been infected worldwide, with 106 dead.

Nara prefecture officials said it was highly likely the man had been infected on the bus, having “spent a long time in the same space with a virus carrier”.

They said they were closely monitoring the health of all those who have come in contact with the driver, and that none have shown any signs of flu symptoms so far.

Meanwhile, Japan’s first charter flight to evacuate its stranded citizens from Wuhan departed Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport just after 8.30pm (7.30pm in Singapore) on Tuesday night.


Passengers wearing protective facemasks commute on a subway train in Tokyo on Jan 28, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

The All Nippon Airways (ANA) flight will deliver masks and protective suits, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said, before it returns with 200 Japanese nationals. It is expected to land at around 7.30am local time Wednesday.

 
 
 

Multiple flights will have to be made, with a second trip potentially taking place Wednesday night.

Mr Motegi said yesterday about 650 people wished to be repatriated, revising upward the figure of 560 that he provided on Monday. These flights mark the first time Japan is evacuating its nationals from a foreign country due to a disease outbreak.

Each flight will be staffed with a doctor, two nurses and a quarantine officer.

Dr Koki Kaku, an infectious disease expert from the National Defence Medical College, told public broadcaster NHK that the first likely case of human-to-human transmission of the Wuhan virus in Japan suggests a risk of the virus spreading domestically.

He warned that people should not let their guard down, and practise proper hygiene.